Is your “designer” a designer?

Is your “designer” a designer?

COME JUNE 1, I will have spent 30 years as a newspaper consultant. That’s a long time. I’ll be retiring at the end of this year…perhaps sooner.

It’s time for me to turn my attention more toward Julia and my family…and the pursuits that bring me joy.

Over for the next few months, I’m offering some of my best columns from the past few years.

Here’s one that focuses on designers.


DURING A RECENT phone conversation with a publisher, she said: “We have a designer who does that.”

A designer can tell you why the nameplate at top works well…and why the one at bottom is awful.



I had seen her paper. She doesn’t have a designer.

What she has is a person who assembles pages. And there’s a difference. A person who assembles pages finds ways to make things fit. There’s no design involved. It’s just shoehorning stuff into holes and getting the paper done—sometimes on deadline.

So…how do you tell if your “designer” really is a designer? Here are some of the things I’d look for:

TREATS TEXT with respect, never going off the baseline grid and never tracking too tightly.

UNDERSTANDS that headline hierarchy is more than just size.

UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of deadlines…and meets them.

KNOWS WHAT a color wheel is…and how to use it.

MEASURES in picas and points…not inches.

USES THINNER rules when rules are called for in a design.

USES COLOR with a purpose, not whimsically.

KNOWS HOW to fill space when a story comes up short…without it ever looking like he/she has filled space.

NEVER WHINES about the space he/she is given to design in.

CAN EXPLAIN a page design or a design element to someone who really doesn’t understand design.

KNOWS what is meant by the term “optical center.”

UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of planning.

UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of visual elements.

UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of design consistency.

UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of negative space.

UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of deadlines—and meets them.

KNOWS HOW to get or prepare a chart.

KNOWS HOW to get or prepare a map.

KNOWS HOW to get or prepare a graphic.

KNOWS HOW to get or prepare an infobox or by-the-numbers box.

COMMUNICATES design approach clearly to others.

COMMUNICATES the value of design to those in other departments—especially circulation and advertising.

INSISTS on being involved in discussions of special reports and special sections.

UNDERSTANDS that great design is not the practice of putting more things into a page…but in taking things away.

WHEN ASKED about a design decision, never says:  “I don’t know…it just felt right.”


FOCUSES on the needs of readers. Always.

So…does your design staffer do these things? If so, you are blest. If not…



ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the Director of Henninger Consulting


Ed Henninger | Director | Henninger Consulting

756 Summerwood Dr

Rock Hill SC  29732  USA